Actress Patricia Clarkson didn't read Gillian Flynn's novel "Sharp Objects" until after shooting her role in HBO's limited-series adaptation of the story.
That's just how the New Orleans born-and-raised Clarkson rolls.
Often following the road less traveled, her lengthy acting journey has taken her to numerous television, stage and independent film starring and supporting roles, mixed in with the occasional mainstream feature film or TV series guest-starring stint.
At 58, the roles keep coming. In addition to "Sharp Objects," Clarkson also recently filmed eight episodes of Netflix's "House of Cards," portraying Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce Jane Davis, and returned to her hometown to shoot the independent film "Out of Blue," starring as detective Mike Hoolihan.
In "Sharp Objects," reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) returns to her small hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. In the process, she attempts to put together a psychological puzzle from her past. Clarkson plays Adora, Preaker's mother. The eight-episode series' second installment is Sunday.
Known as Patty to many in New Orleans, others may not recognize Clarkson's name. But if you've seen her work, you will remember her effortless acting style, vintage glamour and that deep and breathy "whiskey" voice.
Clarkson's accolades include Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in "Pieces of April" (2003), two Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her recurring role in "Six Feet Under," also on HBO; and a 2015 Tony Award nod for "The Elephant Man."
Clarkson is in the Big Easy this weekend but says this trip is all about family time, so The Advocate caught up with her by phone last week to discuss her latest projects.
How did you prepare for the "Sharp Objects" role?
When I got the offer, I wanted to speak to Gillian and Jean-Marc (Vallée, the director) before I accepted it. I knew the complicated and dark story, but I didn't know Adora (Crellin, her character) in long form. I had just read the first three scripts.
I had this astonishing conversation with Gillian on the phone. She's so profound and funny and quite wooing. I entered into the world of Wind Gap (the fictitious Missouri town in which Flynn set her story) and I didn't look back.
I also spoke to Jean Marc on how he saw the character and where we'd take it. I said, "I don't know if I'm going to sink or swim in this character but let's go." I'm a pretty good swimmer. I went to camp.
How would you describe Adora?
I think it's easy to say she is harsh or she is strident or sharp (no pun intended), but if you just scratch the surface on her slightly, you see the woman that is really struggling herself.
This is a story about three generations of women that have been traumatized, have issues, have suffered. Another great HBO series led by women. Women are always winning when we lead anything. We don't always have to play perfect women. We just need to have the best lines, the best character, you know, and that's what we want.
It's an emotional, dark, tormented story, but its great drama. She's one of the more difficult characters I've ever played.
And this is your first time working alongside Oscar nominee and Golden Globe-winning actress Amy Adams?
Yes. She had actually wanted me for the part, so she was over the moon and, of course, I was over the moon to work with her. She's a stunning person first and foremost and a beautiful actress.
Your first feature film role was in 1987's "The Untouchables." What would you tell your 27-year-old self if you could?
I'd say, "Hang in there 'cause some pretty great stuff is coming (laughs)." I didn't know it at the time. I was on "Good Morning America" the other day, and they showed a clip of me kissing Kevin Costner (Eliot Ness) in "The Untouchables." I thought, "You know, I'd never done a movie, and it was quite lovely, you know. I mean how dreamy to get to kiss Kevin Costner in your first movie?" It's not bad (laughs again). And to act with these great actors in this big film.
And how's the career gone since then?
This industry takes you on a journey I think you're supposed to have. … But the last almost 20 years have been pretty fabulous and have been filled with a lot of the work I wanted to do and doing some great films, doing some great parts, doing some terrific television. I think I've always sought out great writing. It always begins with great writing. And I've gotten to work with extraordinary directors that now I count as my friends, and maybe that's the best part of it all.
When did you decide acting is what you had to do?
I think that was early on in New Orleans. My teachers. My teacher in junior high who said, "You're an actress, Patty." Mrs. Morrison, my speech teacher, and then I joined the drama club and Janet Shea, she was like, "You're an actress." And then I go off to O. Perry Walker (Senior High School) and my first really big mentor, Ethel Istre, they all kept saying "You're an actress," and I believed them. My parents (Arthur Clarkson and former New Orleans city councilwoman Jackie Clarkson) were very supportive, as well as my four younger sisters.
I kind of wanted to have this artistic life. I might not have all the fame and the fortunes, but I have an artistic life. I have the life in this industry that I kind of wanted.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sundays
CHANNEL: HBO (premium cable Channel 300 in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, premium cable Channel 200 in New Orleans)